School board discussing elementary redistricting

Board weighs reworking elementary boundaries

Sprunica Elementary School is running out of space.

Next school year, it is projected to have 271 students — 92 more than Van Buren Elementary School and 77 more than Helmsburg Elementary School.

One way to alleviate that problem might be redrawing elementary school boundary lines. That’s an idea the school board discussed May 19, and will continue to discuss this summer.

If Sprunica opens a new classroom, it will lose either a special education room or one of the two preschool rooms — something Principal Abbie Oliver doesn’t want to see happen.

She supports redistricting as a solution.

“I know that’s not an easy task. We have a challenging and tricky busing system. It’s not an easy task or decision to make, but room-wise, we’re just going to run out,” she said. “At some point there’s just no room, there’s no classrooms.”

The challenges

Elementary boundary lines were drawn in 2013 after the school board, in a cost-cutting measure, decided to close Nashville Elementary School and create Brown County Intermediate School in that building.

Preschool through fourth-grade students who had been at Nashville Elementary were shifted south to Van Buren Elementary and north to Helmsburg Elementary, and fifth- and sixth-graders from all elementaries began attending intermediate school in Nashville.


However, students have been allowed to transfer to the elementary school of their choice — and people who do not live in the county can transfer in, too.

Sprunica has 40 students who do not live in that district. Sixteen of them live out of the county, Shaffer told the board.

Sprunica’s incoming third-grade class is so large — 67 students — that it required a third teacher who will follow that class to the fourth grade.

Real estate agent and parent Robyn Bowman said the appeal of Sprunica comes from the school’s awards — including three consecutive Four Star School designations — its high enrollment and its location in the northern part of the county.

“I can say the last three or four families that I have sold to that have small children … have all said this is where we want to go,” she said.

Helmsburg has 17 students who live in a different elementary district; 10 are from outside the county.

Principal Kelli Bruner said her enrollment has been steady since the reorganization. Her largest group is in the incoming second-grade class — with 51 students — but overall, it’s manageable, she said.

She doesn’t think redistricting would increase it too much, either.

Van Buren’s smallest enrollment is in next year’s second-grade class. Thirty-two students will be split between two classrooms, Principal Christy Wrightsman said.

Finding a better enrollment balance among the elementaries would allow all students to benefit from more average or smaller class sizes, she said.

The school is seeing some growth; last fall, it opened a second preschool classroom last fall, and it’s expecting 35 preschoolers next year — more than at the other two elementary schools.

Van Buren has 11 students who live in another elementary district, with seven who live out of the county, Shaffer said. Some are coming from Jackson County, Wrightsman said.

Wrightsman said a lack of affordable housing and employment in her district affects enrollment more than anything.

“I truly believe people want to be in Brown County,” she said. “I talked with families who are looking in the district, they are looking at housing, they’ve come in, they’ve taken visits, they seem very pleased about coming to the district, but then will have to turn around and say, ‘I’m sorry. We weren’t able to find appropriate housing.”

The options

Shaffer presented the school board four possible options to address the imbalance.

One would be to require all transfer students to return to their home school district. Or, students who are already enrolled at another school could stay there, but no new transfers among in-county students would be accepted.

Sprunica teacher Erika East said putting a freeze on transfers or forcing students to return to their own district will hurt teachers who wish for their children to attend their school.

Her children attend Sprunica even though they do not live in that district, and she’d like her youngest to be able to do the same.

“We are there early; we are there late. It would show good faith and loyalty to teachers if you wouldn’t do that. Otherwise, we will get there last-minute and leave right away at the end of the day,” she said.

East supports redefining the lines, “but also stay loyal to the people who work for you,” she said. “My children feel like they own Sprunica.”

A second option Shaffer presented would be to redirect a few buses from Sprunica to Helmsburg.

Option three would be to request volunteers to move from Sprunica to Helmsburg or Van Buren. Bus service would not be provided to those students.

He said the final option would be to let the classes stay as they are — not addressing the overall enrollment imbalance or the imbalance among grade levels.

Helmsburg Elementary School first-grade teacher Donna Duff encouraged the board to look at available real estate in each district before redrawing any lines.

Shaffer said that’s why he and Director of Transportation Jeff Deckard have been looking at changing specific bus routes.

Board member Stephanie Kritzer said putting a freeze on future transfers will not solve the problem; it will just encourage parents to list a different address as their home to get the school they want.

East also cautioned the board about putting freezes on future transfers from within the district, but allowing out-of-country parents to pick the elementary of their choice. People who live here who voted “yes” for the recent school funding referendum “should not be less important than people out of county,” she said.

Shaffer said restricting the choice of parents from outside of the county could turn them away from the corporation all together. And with public schools across the state angling for a greater share of state school funding, districts need all the students they can get.

Next meeting

The school board’s next scheduled meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 2 at Brown County Intermediate School.